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Leveson's Wikipedia moment: how internet 'research' on The Independent's history left him red-faced


Lord Justice Leveson forgot one of the elementary rules of journalism when he compiled the section of his report that covered the history of this newspaper. Journalism students are taught at college that when researching on the internet, they should not assume that the first site they come to is reliable.

In his report the judge warned that inaccuracy in newspapers, “caused significant concern.” He also claimed that “The Independent was founded in 1986 by the journalists Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Brett Straub...”

The first two names are correct, but who is Brett Straub? His name first appeared in the Wikipedia entry on The Independent on 27 October 2011, when someone using the IP address removed the name of Matthew Symonds, genuinely one of this newspaper’s three founding journalists, and inserted “Brett Straub”.

This was the only contribution to Wikipedia made from that IP address, which is registered in Pomona, in California. It may or may not be a coincidence that there is a Brett Straub on Facebook who graduated from Cal Poly, in Pomona, and describes himself as “a lazy bum like person who loves cars and hanging out with friends and family.”

The error stayed on the Wikipedia until it was spotted and corrected on 10 November this year – too late, unfortunately, to spare Lord Justice Leveson from being caught out making the basic error of cutting and pasting from Wikipedia without checking.